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Hiroshige (1797 - 1858)

Wakasa Province, A Fishing Boat Catching Flatfish in a Net

Series: Famous Places in the 60-odd Provinces
Medium: Woodblock Print
Date: 1853
Size (H x W): 14 x 9.5 (inches)
Publisher: Koshimuraya Heisuke (Koshihei)
Seals: Hama and Magome, date (trimmed)
Signature: Hiroshige hitsu
Condition: Very good color, good impression, light soiling and wear, light album backing, trimmed bottom margin.

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While some travel guides (meishoki) spoke of pilgrimage routes and maps, others catered to more tailored interests. Guides to local specialties (meibutsu) informed readers of the culinary delights and distinctive souvenirs of each stop on their journey. A meibutsu of Wakasa Province claims the central focus in this fishing scene. Nearly doubled over with effort, the ship's’ crew pulls in a large net of flatfish and the occasional crab. Wakasa Bay was renowned for its seafood, particularly for the flatfish that now fill the fishermen’s nets. Today, the former Wakasa Province belongs to southwestern Fukui Prefecture.

About the artist

Born in Edo as Tokutaro Ando, Hiroshige Utagawa grew up in a minor samurai family. His father belonged to the firefighting force assigned to Edo Castle. It is here that Hiroshige was given his first exposure to art: legend has it that a fellow fireman tutored him in the Kano school of painting, though Hiroshige’s first official teacher was Rinsai. Though Hiroshige tried to join Toyokuni Utagawa's studio, he was turned away. In 1811, young Hiroshige entered an apprenticeship with the celebrated Toyohiro Utagawa. After only a year, he was bestowed with the artist name Hiroshige. He soon gave up his role in the fire department to focus entirely on painting and print design. During this time he studied painting, intrigued by the Shijo school. Hiroshige’s artistic genius went largely unnoticed until 1832.

In Hiroshige Utagawa's groundbreaking series of Japanese woodblock prints, The 53 Stations of the Tokaido (1832-1833), he captured the journey along the Tokaido road, the highway connecting Edo to Kyoto, the imperial capital. With the Tokugawa Shogunate relaxing centuries of age-old restrictions on travel, urban populations embraced travel art and Hiroshige Utagawa became one of the most prominent and successful ukiyo-e artists. He also produced kacho-e (bird-and-flower pictures) to enormous success. In 1858, at the age of 61, he passed away as a result of the Edo cholera epidemic.

Hiroshige Utagawa’s woodblock prints continue to convey the beauty of Japan and provide insight into the everyday life of its citizens during the Edo period. The appeal of his tender, lyrical landscapes was not restricted to the Japanese audience. Hiroshige’s work had a profound influence on the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists of Europe: Toulouse-Lautrec was fascinated with Hiroshige’s daring diagonal compositions and inventive use of perspective, while Van Gogh literally copied two of Hiroshige's prints from the famous series, 100 Famous Views of Edo in oil paint.